Note: Former Newman University (Wichita) head men’s basketball coach Mark Potter and his wife, Nanette, were the keynote speakers at the Nov. 15 Parent’s Night meeting for the Garden City High School winter sports teams. Speaking to several hundred parents and student-athletes, Potter and his wife, addressed a growing social problem that came from first-hand experience. Here is their story.
By Brett Marshall
For much of his lengthy career in coaching boys and men’s basketball, Mark Potter had engineered nothing but success, from his early days of high school coaching at Wichita Kapaun-Mt. Carmel, Cheney and Wichita South, before resurrecting a long-dormant basketball program at Newman University in Wichita.
In 2005, just in the middle of what would become a 19-year Hall of Fame career with the Jets, Potter came face to face with his biggest challenge of his career, but perhaps more importantly, his life.
As the preseason practices were about to begin, Potter simply found himself in a state of near paralysis, unable to move, unable to get ready to leave for the gymnasium to begin practices with his team.
Sitting in a chair, immobile and shedding tears throughout most of the day, Potter’s wife, Nanette, finally told him she was scheduling an appointment with a doctor to see what was happening to this highly-successful, loving husband and usually happy-go lucky man.
“I told her I wasn’t going,” Potter recalled when talking to the GCHS audience. “She told me, ‘Yes you are, even if I have to get Chris (Potter’s assistant coach, who stood 6’6” and weighed 270-pounds) to pick you up and put you in the car”.
The result of that next day visit and the ensuing prognosis was that Potter was suffering from deep depression and the doctor told him he had to stay home, begin taking anti-depressant medication and get therapy. There was no timetable for a return to the court, but the debilitating disease crippled him and he would remain home for more than five weeks, missing a portion of the early 2005-2006 season.
“Now, when I look back, I reviewed all of my years coaching,” Potter said in a follow-up interview. “I could see that about mid-season over a period of years that I knew I was depressed but somehow fought through it.”
Potter admitted that much of the feelings came from stress-related situations, but in 2005 it went soaring to another level.
“I think there was even a five-week period leading up to that time when I saw the doctor,” Potter explained. “So, in all, there was a 10-week period when it was just hard for me to do anything at all. I lost 30 pounds and I couldn’t eat.”
Potter now sees a pattern over the years that perhaps contributed to his stress and eventual depression, a condition he says affects nearly one in four persons in the United States.
“I would average maybe four hours of sleep a night over 18 seasons, and most people need about 8 hours of sleep to feel good and be healthy,” Potter said. “So I was incredibly sleep-deprived, exhausted and that contributed to the eventual diagnosis of depression.”
Having retired from Newman following the 2016-17 season, Potter and Nanette have formed a business called D2UP “Dedicated to Uncommon Principles.” He now is a featured speaker at high schools and colleges throughout the country, starting the full-time experience in the summer of 2017 following his retirement.
Not realizing the eventual impact at the time, Potter agreed during that 2005-2006 season to a sit-down interview with the Wichita Eagle newspaper to talk about his reason for being away from the team for 5 weeks. The result was immediate as Potter was inundated with emails, phone calls, messages, from people of all walks of life.
“I had a letter from a high school boy that said after reading my story, he was able to talk to his parents to tell them of his depression,” Potter recalled emotionally. “He told me that he felt like I had saved his life. And that’s what we’re trying to do with our speaking about depression.
“I hope we are truly impacting and giving people hope that they can get help,” Potter reaffirmed. “This has been my family’s greatest victory, and we want others to share the same victory.”
Potter said that people needed to overcome the stigma of depression, and be able to talk about it first, and then do something about it second.
“If we can get this out in the open it becomes easier to deal with,” Potter said. “There’s no easy path. It’s very difficult to admit something like this.”
Today, Potter is getting more sleep, he’s eating healthier, and he also takes walks to relax and exercise.
“I still take meds because my doctor said it wasn’t a good idea to get off them,” Potter said. “Back in 2005, once I started getting more sleep and once I got better, I was able to go back to the team and coach.”
A man of deep faith, Potter said that his speaking tour had been a blessing to both he and Nanette.
“This has been a great blessing to be able to talk about my condition, and to help many others,” Potter said.